Thursday, May 22, 2008

Review: On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness

Penny Arcade Adventures and Hothead Games yesterday released "On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness: Episode One". I swiftly downloaded the demo and, eager to see the rest, purchased and enjoyed the rest of the game. It certainly warrants a repeat play from me, despite its brevity, and I gained much amusement and engagement from it.

So let's start with what I didn't like. Load times were abysmal. Maybe it's the Torque engine, but even small levels took around thirty seconds for my computer to piece together. Larger ones made me wait around a minute, which I found hard to stomach. In one zone, Pelican Bay, a piece of disjointed carnival music plays during the level load, which was creepy the first time, but really annoying thereafter. After a while, I started muting my computer whenever I transfered to that zone. All the other music in the game, though, is great - that piece would have been, too, if I only had to hear it once.

I agree with other reviewers that most of the dialog was pretty lame, but I truly loved Tycho's interactions with his mad-scientist niece Anne-Claire in which the battled wits concerning the existence of paranormal entities. The language they used was both amusing and vivid, as Anne-Claire protests Tycho's undulating fear of the dark gods as it mixes with nostalgia for his days achieving his Apocalyptica degree in university. Good times.

My gameplay concerns only come in when we get to the wandering around phase of the game. In case you didn't know, RSPD is a role playing game that I suppose mostly fits under the Final Fantasy-esque umbrella. Like many RPGs, a good deal of the game involves taking your characters around the environment to have them meet NPCs, collect items, and fight things. In RSPD, unfortunately, I experienced rather shoddy pathfinding in many cases - I would click on a box for the protagonist to shatter with his nightmare landscaping implements, and he would continuously walk into the lamppost between him and this goal until I manually commanded him to go around it. It was a little embarrassing.

And now we get to the good part - what I liked!

Combat was fan-flaming-tastic. Fighting things was extraordinarily fun, once I got Gabe and Tycho on my team (very early on, and near the end of the demo). The combat is a mixture of real-time and turn-based, with the player controlling all three protagonists in skirmishes against up to (I think) seven opponents at a time. It is turn-based in that each character has a speed stat which determines how quickly their actions can be "charged up," but it's real-time
in the fact that the game doesn't pause once an action is charged, and opponents (who also have a speed statistic) will attack when they "choose" - not necessarily the moment they're ready. It's a bit hard to explain - perhaps it's best just to try it out.

The characters each have three types of moves - item usage, basic attacks, and special attacks. The last category is the interesting one. Each protagonist has a little mini-game that you play to successfully pull of a special attack with the maximum violence. Tycho's, for example, requires the player to correctly "Simon says" the WASD notifications on screen within a very short amount of time, making as few mistakes as possible. Their effects can be devastating, and pulling them off is fun. In addition, each party can attempt to block the other's moves by timing a block at the right moment. If pulled off properly, this also enables a counterattack. In short, combat was engaging throughout the game, requiring the player to manage his attention as well as the move order.

One resource I'm grateful that we didn't have to manage with much complexity was the collection of items. In games like Golden Sun and Baldur's Gate, I was always very afraid to use potions or scrolls or whatever because they were in such scarcity. By making those items able to be found only in chests or very rarely on monster drops, they discouraged "hoarding" players like me from using them. In RSPD, while acquiring the items is done in the same way, those chests (boxes and trashcans, in this game) respawned whenever the player left the area. This made the items much more disposable, and summarily more often-used in my play of the game. Managing those items during combat became about determining which effect was necessary, not about which item I felt I most likely wouldn't need in the future.

In addition, the setting was great. New Arcadia, 1922, was a fun place, and the protagonist's quips as you examine each bit of it were very enjoyable to read.

In short, try it out! There's a demo, and the game sums to $20. While I finished it in a day, I was playing rather voraciously, and I still feel it was worth it. I certainly want to see combat like this in the future!


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1 comment:

alex said...

That combat sounds pretty intense. I know some guy who doesn't like it when RTS games require micromanagement to play well, so he would have hated this game.